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Top 10 “Middle of the World” travel sites to visit when life returns to normal

For travelers, the confines of being “sheltered in place” for some indeterminable period are particularly burdensome. Nonetheless, while all of us are coping with the uncertainty of when life will return to some semblance of normal, it remains important to keep in mind that this “moment” in time is just that – a moment, a temporary situation that will pass for the most part. While the following notes were written before the current health and economic situation took such a dive, it remains our heartfelt belief that the idea of travel to alluring, unfamiliar and exotic spots such as the Galapagos Islands and colonial Quito serve to provide a vision and hope for what luxury travelers can expect in the not so distant future. With that said, we share with you a few words and images of our home city: Quito, Ecuador. Much more than a jumping off-point for flying to the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito elegantly fuses colonial charm, architectural gems, and modern town living. As diverse as it is ornate, Quito is perched high in the Andes — approaching 2 miles above sea level — situated in a dramatic mountain setting flanked by snow-capped volcanoes and verdant peaks. Possessing a rich indigenous heritage and linked to an impactful colonial past, Quito is awash with color-filled markets, historical plazas, narrow cobblestone streets and well-weathered buildings, many of which are now comfortable, luxury hotels. Though there’s no end to the places of interest worth visiting in this Ecuadorian city, here we present just 10 of what we consider some of the most interesting sites that Quito has to offer. 1. Old Town and El Panecillo Hill Boasting one of South America’s best-preserved historic districts, Quito’s “Old Town” is the city’s original colonial center, still filled with neo-Gothic and Baroque churches, leafy plazas, political buildings, lavish palaces, and museums. Simply strolling along the worn colonial streets, you’ll learn about the history of this vibrant district, which was first declared a UNESCO “World Heritage Site” back in 1978. A tour of the district is likely to culminate with a drive up to the “Virgen de Quito” monument atop Panecillo Hill. From this vantage point, you’ll have a birds-eye-view of the city as well as the chance to enjoy a panoramic view over “Volcano Avenue”: two parallel mountain ranges that are home to eight of the country’s ten highest peaks – a spectacular sight to behold. 2. Capilla Casa del Hombre Take a short drive to the near north of Quito takes you to the Guayasamin Museum & the Capilla de Hombre. The emblematic house-museum was the former home of Ecuador’s most famous painter: Osvaldo Guayasamin. In pursuit of his vision of turning this space into an icon of Ecuadorian painting, he donated his artworks, all the objects and furniture in his house, and his collection of pre-Columbian art to this museum. Today, when you walk inside, you’ll note how the house is more like a gallery designed by the artist, with each space possessing its own character. As an indigenous painter with a political focus, his legacy lives on in this museum. 3. Calle La Ronda With origins that date back to the time of the Incas, the long curving street known as “La Ronda” is an enchanting addition to Quito’s historic district. Though once a den for drug dealers, criminals, and the homeless, the street actually benefited from neglect in that its historical buildings were never razed to make way for fast-food franchises or downtown condos. Instead, the streets doorways today open up to art galleries, museums, craft shops, and elegant restaurants. This lantern-lit street and its flower-filled balconies provide for a romantic ambiance that makes La Ronda one of the crown jewels of the city. 4. Teleferico Quito’s mountainside cable car system — the highest in all of South America — will whisk you up from the foothills of the Pichincha Volcano to its summit (4,050 meters, or 13,300 feet above sea level). In just 10 minutes, one of the six-passenger gondola cars that constitute the “TelefériQo” (from teleférico and Quito) will transport you to a site offering spectacular views of the whole city of Quito. So, what better way is there to enjoy the views offered by the city than from above, in the comfort of a gliding gondola? 5. Iglesia La Compañía de Jesus Risking pure sensory overload in Quito’s historic district, you should be prepared to discover the majestic La Compañía Church, a guardian of the city’s stunning artistic and cultural heritage. As you approach the sanctuary, you’ll find its facade carved completely in gray volcanic stone. This artistry draws the attention of visitors not only for its beauty but also for the combination of styles and expressions of the “syncretism” that combines European and indigenous features. In addition to the elaborate exterior of this magnificent church, within it you’ll find altars, pulpits, pillars, and arches adorned form head-to-toe in gold leaf, allowing these elements to shine like jewels. The construction of this temple took 160 years to complete, allowing you to be one of the more than 120,000 people who visit the La Compañía this year. 6. Middle of the World City and the Intiñan Museum No trip to Ecuador (which means “equator” in Spanish) would be complete without a visit to the imaginary line that divides the planet in two. And since Quito is less than an hour from this equatorial line, such a visit is especially easy. Here, you’ll experience the amazing Mitad del Mundo (“Middle of the World”) complex. At this site, located at 0° 0’ 0” latitude is the earth’s equatorial line, you can straddle the planet’s two hemispheres – a great photo op..!! At the center of the Mitad del Mundo stands the centerpiece of the park: a 30m-high, stone trapezoidal monument topped by a brass globe containing a viewing platform and a museum, which provides a good introduction to the indigenous groups of Ecuador through dioramas, clothing displays, and photographs. In addition, you’ll have a chance to participate in several experiments at the nearby Intiñan Museum, such as watching water go down a drain in a different direction only inches away from either side of the equator, or balancing an egg on a nail, or using an ancient sundial. 7. Artisanal Handicrafts Market While Ecuador’s highland town of Otavalo is known for its famed handicrafts market, many of the same articles can be found at Quito’s traditional market. Located between the city’s Ejido Park and the Mariscal district (aka “Gringo Land”), you can find locally produced goods such as pottery, garments, handicrafts, and more. This sprawling array of vendors, stands, and merchants are as much for the benefit of visiting tourists as for the indigenous Andean population. And whether you’re on the hunt for a bargain or not, the visual spectacle of the market is worth a visit for the photo opportunities alone! 8. Plaza Grande Every Monday morning, you can witness the changing of the guards just outside Quito’s Presidential Palace. In this square called Plaza Grande, this formal ceremony is held, occasionally attended by the President himself, who oversees the events from the Presidential Palace’s balcony. On other days, you can find a bench in the square and simply soak up the popular culture. People watching is the main pass time here, as you’ll see how the locals meet and greet while street-food vendors and buskers contribute to this always-vibrant site. 9. Basilica del Voto Nacional Church Situated on the edge of Quito’s historic district, the Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-Gothic structure in Ecuador and one of the largest in Latin America. For its majesty and style, this Catholic church — which is in the shape of a Gothic cross — has been compared with other large cathedrals in the world, including the Basilica of Notre Dame (Paris) and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (New York). Reaching a height of 115 meters, within it are 24 chapels representing the number of provinces in Ecuador. A striking feature of this huge cathedral is its gargoyles, which are seen on the facade and walls; but instead of classical motifs, these have been replaced by amphibians and reptiles of Ecuador, specifically animals from the Galapagos Islands. 10. “Gringo Land” Only a 20-minute walk from Quito “Old Town” historic district is the contrasting “New Town” Mariscal District. An entirely different world, the area is a mixture of trendy cafés, international restaurants, travel agencies, cybercafés, disco-tech bars, and small hotels. Quito’s nightlife epicenter, this is a great place to visit, whether for just a quick drink or if you are looking to salsa through the night. Living up to its nickname of gringolandia (“gringo land”), the area attracts foreigners but also locals alike, allowing this barrio to maintain an Ecuadorian flair. To fully discover exciting experiences like these, take at least a day tour while in Quito. Expert travel coordinators will take you on a tour that introduces you to the “real” – authentic – Quito. Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Alfonso Tandazo

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. When I first saw that view I thought that it might be a very sweaty climb to get it. I was very relieved to read that the teleferico does all the hard work. It looks as if it gives breathtaking views of all of Quito.

  2. I’m not sure that normal life will return for quite some time. Looking at the graphs that the experts are producing we could hope for a lull in cases throughout the summer. Then unfortunately it looks as if there may be a second wave of Covid-19 around November / December time. After that in 2021 we might start being vaccinated but by then the virus will probably have mutated making the vaccine less than 100% reliable.

    A “Middle of the World” destination, like Quito, could be a clever choice as the virus seems less able to do its damage in warmer locations.

    1. I live in Southeast Asia at the moment, and I can assure you — there’s not much difference between the spread of the virus and whether or not the weather is warm. However, it seems to me that South America has been much more proactive at shutting down borders and encouraging their populations to practice lockdown procedures. So, it’s probably true that while the rest of the world struggles, a city like Quito might fare better in the long run.

  3. And I’d always wandered if there was enough going on to keep me out of mischief for a few days in Quito! Thanks for reassuring me.

  4. I wondered where I knew ‘La Ronda’ from, TV about crime and drug dealers I think! It’s so good to hear that the place was able to be turned around and completely revamped to give it a new lease of life. Quito’s La Compañía Church is one I’d come across in a TV documentary some time ago, really gorgeous interior and very impressive to think how it was first built in the 1700s before we had the sorts of tech we do today for construction. I think that’s one of the top 100 UNESCO World Heritage Site Monuments too if I remember rightly. I can see why it gets so many visitors.

    I love that imaginary line thing, you’d just want to put one foot on either side and start jumping back and forth. Do they get a lot of Instagrammers and tourists doing just that? Really fascinating look at the ‘middle of the world’, I don’t think the region gets enough attention in travel publicity generally so it’s great to learn more about what’s there and the culture and top sites to see.

  5. Wow, Ecuador’s Mitad del Mundo reminds me of A Walk to Remember. You can be at two places at one time. And here, you’d be in the northern and southern hemispheres of the world at the same time. I’ve always been interested in places like this. Such as when I visited Singapore’s Sentosa Island, which is the southernmost part of the country and is the farthest you can go from London without needing a plane or boat. Isn’t that an amazing piece of trivia? I wonder if anyone’s tried it though. You’d probably need a few weeks or months and a wad of cash.

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